Spring, 1230 – Shiro Sano Kakita
In the fourth spring following Kakita Harun’s arrival at the Kakita Academy, his father Karasu brought Masami and Masaru to begin their education. Twins, probably Matsu in origin. Both had red hair and this might have caused them a little grief had Harun not cleared the path for them earlier.
The boy Masaru was energetic and talkative. He was clearly suited for duelling; his sister was quieter and was accepted with the artisans.
The arrived with their cat, a stripey ginger named Yui. Sensei Kenshin look sceptically at first at the animal, then said Yui could stay if she earned her keep catching mice.
Harun spent time with his father before he left to resume his duties as Emerald Champion. They walked together around the castle battlements, talking.
The war with the Onyx had changed, Karasu said when Harun asked him of news. Things had splintered since the death of Kanpeki, several of the warlords tried to take his place. Come summer, they would press the advantage.
“This doesn’t mean it’s ending,” Karasu explained. “It has just become a very different fight. The Onyx have shattered into smaller pieces, this makes them harder to stop.” He leaned on the battlements and looked out at the horizon. There was more grey in his hair and beard, making him look older than his thirty-two years. “It will be up to you, and Arahime and all the other children to finish what we started. I had hoped to leave you a better world.”
Harun stood close to him. “Father, one day I will ride out at your side. I could think of no greater honour.”
Karasu turned to look at his son. It wouldn’t be long until Harun would be as tall as him, he had lost a lot of his boyishness. In a few short ears, Harun would have his own daisho, be swearing it and his service to the clan as a samurai.
He almost told him then. About his real mother, his real father. The whole story. But something held him back.
Almost a man, but not quite, thought Karasu.
He put his hand on Harun’s, smiling at him. “I couldn’t be prouder,” he said.
“Focus,” said Kakita Kenshin as he walked around the circle of seated students. “This is the essence of iaijutsu. This is how a duel is won before even your sword leaves its saya.” He looked around at the young faces. “Then, when the moment wills it, comes the strike. The draw and the blow are one.”
Harun watched the Master Sensei with interest. Even though he had lived in the Academy for four years, it still felt a privilege to watch the masters at work. And to learn from them where iaijutsu was in its most perfect form.
Kenshin stepped into the middle of the circle and looked over the heads of his students to a young man who had watched everything by the door. “Isamu-san, if you would?”
The students turned to look at him. They knew of Kakita Isamu, he after all had won the Iaijutsu tournament at the Emperor’s Court earlier that winter.
Isamu walked into the circle, conscious of the stares on him and seeming to enjoy them. He bowed low to Kenshin. He was a young man, in his twenties with the brashness and overconfidence that seemed to be about all Crane duellists.
Kenshin bowed in return, much lower but still with the appropriate amount of respect. Then they both assumed the stance of Void.
All was quiet. Not a breath of wind, not a whisper from anyone. The two duellists stood, quiet in their intensity.
Then, like a flash of lightning, they moved. Their swords clearing the saya, a flash of steel as they came down on either side. Isamu touched his arm, there was a hole there where Kenshin’s sword had cut it. Not a scratch on his arm at all.
Isamu bowed low to Kenshin, then left.
“He made it look easy,” whispered Arahime excitedly to Harun.
“One day we will be doing that,” Harun whispered back.
Several days later, Arahime was in the courtyard teasing Yui with a flower. She tickled the cats nose with it, holding it just out of reach. Yui rolled on his back, trying to bat at it.
Harun found her there. He sat down next to Arahime. In many ways they had gotten closer since living at the Academy. But lately, it seemed as if she wanted something more from him than friendship. Harun wasn’t sure what to think of that. Arahime was like his sister, anything else would be strange.
He took out a piece of paper from a pocket and held it out to Arahime. “Can you tell me what you think of this.”
“More of your verses, Harun-san?” Arahime asked, taking it. “I thought the poets were in my family.” She gave the flower to Harun and read the poem.
Harun tried to seem nonchalant as Arahime read it, teasing Yui with the flower.
A falling leaf, still
A single feather, frozen
Strike! The lightning flash!
Arahime smiled. “I like it,” she said, “it’s how I felt when we watched the duel.”
Harun was relieved. “The stillness,” he said, “I was trying to capture it. Not sure if I did.”
“I think you did,” said Arahime warmly, handing it back to him. “Is this what you want to be? A warrior poet?”
Harun smiled, the thought had crossed his mind. “Isn’t a bit early to be thinking of things like that?”
“Perhaps,” said Arahime. “But we should still think about how we will serve the clan when we leave here.”
“We probably won’t have much of a choice what we do,” Harun reminded her. “We will be sent to serve the clan where we will be most needed.
Yui, clearly discontented with the lack of attention with the lack of attention, chose this moment to pounce upon Arahime. She laughed, quickly moving her hands away from Yui’s claws.
“She probably smells the dried fish on your clothes,” teased Harun. “How did that happen?”
“It was Masami, she put them in my clothes,” said Arahime. “I told her that her first painting class was in the kitchens and she believed me.”
Harun laughed. “Why do you torment her so?”
Arahime hit him with the flower. Harun held up his hands in mock surrender.
Yui seemed to think this was a grand game, starting to gambol about excitedly. Swatting Harun with her paws.
Harun waved Yui off, but this caused the cat to startle, running across the courtyard and towards the inside of the castle.
They looked at each other, then ran after her.
They chased him into the tenshukaku, upstairs, past guards and then saw Yui slip into a room with guards in front. They stopped Arahime, who was behind, but Harun got past them.
“What? What’s all this? Who are you?” bellowed an unfamiliar voice.
Harun froze, bent over as he picked up the cat. On his right was a mortified and furious Kakita Rikuto, the Kakita family damiyo. On his left was, guessing by the purple he wore and the beard, a Unicorn samurai lord. Probably of higher tank than Rikuto, given his reaction.
“My profound apologies, Lord Chinua,” said Rikuto, bowing low. “I will make sure that this young scamp is…”
“No, no need,” Chinua said, waving aside the apologies. “Having youngsters around would certainly make things interesting.” He took a good look at Harun who was still frozen to the spot. “Though looking like that, are you sure he isn’t one of mine?” This last remark he finished with a laugh, which did a lot for breaking the tension.
Before anyone could say more, someone else came in. A woman wearing emerald green and yellow armour. Harun knew she was an Imperial Herald, he had seen many come to see his father. She bowed low to Rikuto and presented him with a large envelope with a chrysanthemum seal.
Rikuto looked between the herald and Chinua. The Unicorn Champion got to his feet, with a little difficulty. “We can talk on this later,” he said, then looked at Harun. “This one can see me to my quarters.”
As they walked, Yui jumped from Harun’s arms and ran back towards the dojo. Harun kept place with Lord Chinua who walked with a slight limp.
“What is your name, son?” he asked. The tone was curious, almost cordial.
“Harun, my lord,” he answered. “Kakita Harun.”
“Harun,” Chinua repeated thoughtfully. “I knew Harun, a long time ago. Who is your mother?”
“Kakita Hitomi, my lord,” said Harun. “She is the wife of my father, Kakita Karasu, the Emerald Champion.”
“Karasu?” Chinua frowned as if this wasn’t an answer he expected.
They walked on in silence for the rest of the way, when they almost came to the guest quarters Chinua spoke again.
“Harun-san, can you do something for me?”
“Of course, my lord,” said Harun meekly.
“When you write to your father next, tell him that you have seen me,” Chinua said. “I might have something he wants.”
“I will,” promised Harun, bowing low.
“You may go,” Chinua said.
Harun ran off.
Chinua watched the boy leave, he only had more questions. He went inside his quarters, his hands clenched into fists.
Damn it all, Yamada! Where are you and why is your son here?
When Harun arrived back at the dojo, the courtyard was filled with the students and masters. They were talking excitedly to each other.
Harun approached Arahime. “What is going on?”
Arahime’s smile turned to concern. “Harun? What happened? Did you get in a lot of trouble?”
Harun shook his head. “I will tell you later, I promise. What is all this?”
“Oh,” Arahime smiled again, “an Imperial Herald arrived earlier. The Empress has given birth to another son and the Emperor has declared twenty days of thanks giving. Isn’t that great?”
“It is,” Harun agreed.
The next day was a little more relaxed than normal. They spent the morning at the shrine, giving thanks and offering prayers. And in the evening they were permitted to join the castle’s festivities while fireworks lit up the sky.
Lord Chinua was there. More than once, Harun caught him looking his way. But he was never approached.
He acts as if he knows me, thought Harun. Or knows something about me that I don’t. Could he…could he know who I really am?